Reading list

Authors pick a new family member from literature

A beloved brother, an inspiring auntie, a husband too good to be true…we asked our authors which book characters they would choose for their own family

Books inhabited day version

 

Husband

About Alice by Calvin Trillin makes me cry every time I read it. It's one long posthumous love letter, from a husband to his wife. Over the years, I've bought that book and mailed it to more people than I can remember. It's the purest, most honest, most beautiful expression of love I've ever read. And it's funny, just like Alice was. I'd say I'd like Calvin to be my husband, and me to be Alice - except that I wouldn't trade my husband for anyone. He's my Calvin, and I'm his Alice.

- Angela Duckworth, author of Grit

Brother

I’m picking a brother since I don’t have one. And I’m picking Lucifer – specifically Glen Duncan’s brilliantly suave and debauched version of him – since corrupting influences are sadly lacking in my family.

I, Lucifer is one of my favourite novels. Penned by the dark lord himself, it chronicles his hedonistic exploits living for one month as a mortal. We also get to hear his side of the story (yes, that one).

Childhood wouldn’t be much fun, and my wife has already informed me that he wouldn't be allowed over for tea, so we would only have a short time together. He would have to be my long-lost brother, rolling up during my late twenties, leading me astray for a month, and then leaving me in the desert with no clothes or money. I probably wouldn’t remember much about it.

Come to think about it…

- Adrian J. Walker, author of The End of the World Running Club

Grandmother

I’d choose Iris Chase from Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. I am legendarily short on grandmothers; when I first read about what becomes of her daughter Aimee I wondered what it might have been like to have Iris Chase as a grandmother. Iris’ cleverness as an adult grew out of necessity, the need to survive on her own when she hadn’t been taught how to, and her daughter’s life seems to go the way it does in great part because her mother doesn’t begin to push back against the people who have controlled her until after Aimee is born. But by the time Iris’ granddaughter, Sabrina, is born, Iris seems determined to live life on her own terms, and she misses out on raising Sabrina due mostly to chance. If I could choose a literary relative I’d quite like to be a second granddaughter, the one that Iris Chase does get to raise.

- Sara Taylor, author of The Shore
 

Mother

As far as fictional mums go, Jessica Thomas from Jojo Moyes’ fantastic The One Plus One has got to be up there with the best. Tenacious and hard-working, she’s devoted to doing everything she can to make her kids happy. Jess is a softie at heart, but fabulously gritty when she needs to be, as well as resourceful to the last and determinedly positive. And let’s not forget animal lover and all-round grafter – what a brilliant real-life role model she’d make. Jess Thomas would be at your side no matter what it took for her to be there. Which, in the end, is what being a great mum is all about.

- Rebecca Done, author of This Secret We’re Keeping

Aunt

I was twelve or thirteen years old when I first read Contact by Carl Sagan, and I wanted to grow up to be Ellie Arroway. Now I’d love to have her as my aunt: close enough for a genuine relationship, but also distant enough that I could have idolized her growing up. Just imagine being able to sit at the dinner table and listen to your aunt tell stories about travelling the universe via wormhole! It also would have been great to have had her around my freshman year of college, when I vastly overestimated my mathematical aptitude and took calculus with all the pre-med students. With Aunt Ellie’s help, maybe I could have actually made some sense of differential equations. I’d also like to think that given her appreciation of uncertainty and beauty, she would have enjoyed having a writer in the family.

- Alexandra Oliva, author of The Last One

 

Uncle

At the moment I am reading I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes - which I’m finding an absolutely nail-biting experience. It strikes me that it would be quite handy to have an uncle like Pilgrim. When I have car trouble, or my central heating plays up, I tend to call my dad, or if I’m having guy trouble I call my best mate, but when I accidentally witness the murder of a US senator by a high-ranking assassin employed by a ruthless Columbian drug lord called something like El Escorpion, I’ve got no-one on speed dial. After all, a girl never knows when she will need advice on how to file the registration number off an AK-47 or how to hotwire a tank. 

- Helen Callaghan, author of Dear Amy

Brother

Me Talk Pretty One Day is David Sedaris’ account of growing up as a neurotic, gay, Greek boy in North Carolina, one of six children with a jazz loving father and a mother who let her children just get on with their lives. It is the funniest book I have ever read - by far. I would like David Sedaris to be my brother because he can take any mundane situation and turn it into something hilarious, memorable, tragic or downright bizarre. For example, he has to go to a speech therapist because of his lisp and he spends hour after hour avoiding any word with an ’s’ in it.  ‘Yes’ becomes ‘Affirmative’ and ‘’Please’ becomes ‘With your kind permission.’ Or his lack of emotion that the family pets kept dying and his motto ‘Another day, another collar.’ My childhood was one of scrapes and giggles and practical jokes and David Sedaris would have fitted right in.

- Kit de Waal, author of My Name is Leon


Mother

When I was younger I longed to be a member of the Durrell family after studying My Family and Other Animals in my first year at secondary school. I particularly hankered after having Mrs Durrell as a mother as she was so laid back and basically let her kids rampage around Corfu causing havoc, only responding with the odd sigh and 'oh really, Gerry'. A warm, loving, intrepid and entirely hands-off mother seemed pretty much ideal.

- Tammy Cohen, Author of First One Missing

Related features